As much as we love new music, reissues and compilations are what ultimately record the history of country music. Greatest Hits albums remain in print long after most studio albums have been cut out, while the very best studio albums are remastered and extended to emphasize their historical significance. In recent years, labels have been far more generous with the amount of tracks they will put on a release, and have even begun including bonus DVD content for added value.
I’ll run down my ten best reissues and compilations of the year, followed by Paul’s, who will also be contributing his list of Best Albums of 2006 later this month.
Kevin’s Top Ten Reissues & Compilations of 2006:
21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection
Owens finally gets a single-disc set that collects all of his biggest hits, and more importantly, it’s released digitally, as Owens was one of the most prominent country legends to not have his big hits available for download.
Reflected: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
For his second hits collection, McGraw schools new fans on all facets of his musical history, including early hits that were left off of his first collection, crossover smashes “Live Like You Were Dying” and his duet with Nelly, “Over and Over”, and four new songs to boot – a step up from his first greatest hits, which included only previously released material.
The Definitive Collection
Mattea finally receives a thorough hits collection, with signature songs like “Come From the Heart”, “Walking Away a Winner” and “Time Passes By” joined alongside nine of the ten earlier hits that her first greatest hits collection included. Sure, “Street Talk” and “You’re The Power” should’ve been left off in favor of “Love Travels” and “Seeds”, but overall, an excellent and much-needed compilation, with a moving Mattea interview in the liner notes.
This is the best reissue line that Universal has going, and this edition does a wonderful job of compiling the hits, key album tracks and rarities of The Mavericks’ distinguished recording career. Unless you’re such a big fan that you have all the albums already, this is the only Mavericks release you’ll ever need.
Reasons Why (The Very Best)
I could quibble with some of the song choices, but when you throw in two killer live cuts and a DVD containing all of their videos, it’s hard to complain about this fitting send-off to one of my favorite bands of the new century.
The Essential George Jones
Charley Pride and Ronnie Milsap also received Essential packages this year, but the Jones one was the most necessary, as it collects his big Sony hits, along with some of his work for other labels, making it the most logical starting point for new country fans looking to discover this legendary artist. Available online for only $14, it’s inexcusable not to pick it up if you’re serious about discovering country music’s history.
Long overdue. Jennings was the only male artist of his stature to not have a comprehensive box set on the market – Dolly Parton better be next on RCA’s list – and this four-CD collection is worth every penny.
The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years
Don’t let the title fool you. This isn’t a best-of, but rather all four of Linda’s Capitol albums on 2 CD’s, beautifully remastered and featuring some bonus tracks to fill up the remaining space. This is exactly how I think music from that era should be reissued. Albums from those days being put out with three or four bonus tracks still leaves forty minutes of extra space on a CD, and that’s a waste of that space. More like this, please.
The Complete Atlantic Sessions
Just like the Ronstadt collection, only featuring even more demos and outtakes, and in the end, better music. If you don’t already have Shotgun Willie and Phases & Stages, this is the way to get them. Actually, even if you do have them already, it’s still worth the upgrade.
When Cash released American Recordings in 1994, he repeatedly stated in interviews that he’d wanted to release stripped-down music since the early 1970’s, but couldn’t get the label to go along. He recorded it anyway for his own pleasure, and this year, we got to hear those performances for the first time. To hear Cash while his voice was still in its prime, completely unadorned and accompanied only by guitar on most tracks, is a reminder of the timeless talent that made him an icon. You’ll learn more about the man from a few of these tracks than you ever could from watching Walk the Line.
Paul’s Top Ten Reissues & Compilations of 2006:
A Half Century of Hits
Jerry Lee Lewis
A nice, cross licensed compendium of all the aspects of Jerry Lee’s career: rock ‘n roller, country balladeer and certifiable lunatic. I personally like Jerry Lee the country balladeer best and this has a buch of those tunes, although the omission of “Would You Take Another Chance On Me” is glaring.
Black Mountain Rag
Doc & Merle Watson
The worst albums Doc Watson ever made were very good; the rest were excellent. This is one of the excellent ones.
The Best of Shel Silverstein
Shel was never a great singer, but he had a sense of humor that ranged from wry to wild. If any artist can be described as a “Renaissance Man”, it would be cartoonist, songwriter, poet, writer, etc., Shel Silverstein.
The Complete Atlantic Sessions
After several frustrating years of being forced into the “Nashville Sound” mold by RCA, Willie found himsef recording for alabel not normally associated with country music. While not his best work, these recordings, stripped of Nashville Sound trappings, pointed the way for Willie’s eventual breakthrough with “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” . “Stay All Night”, “Bloody Mary Morning” and “Phases and Stages” all gather significant airplay, and, for the first time, Willie’s Django-inspired guitar work is in evidence.
16 Biggest Hits
Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash
Despite being married for 35+ years, Johnny and June made relatively few true duet studio recordings. This CD picks up the best of them.
Steppin’ Out Kind
Grandpa Jones featuring Merle Travis
The folks at Ace, a British reissue label got it right with this collection of sides originally recorded for King during the 1940s and 1950s. A balanced set of novelties and old country ballads with lots of Grandpa’s excellent claw hammer banjo make for a tasty package.
16 Biggest Hits
“Little” Jimmy Dickens
While it could have been better, this collection gives a balanced look at Jimmy’s career. Best known for his diminutive size and novelty tunes, Jimmy was a superior ballad singer as tunes such as “My Heart’s Bouquet”, “Just When I Needed You”, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)” , “We Could” and “Violet And A Rose” amply demonstrate. Yes, the novelties are here as well as a few of the jump tunes, but it’s the ballads that will enhance your appreciation of Little Jimmy Dickens. I would like to see a more encompassing collection, including more of his hillbilly boogie and his recordings on MCA /Decca, but until that happens this is a fine collection.
The Very Best of Nat Stuckey
Nat Stuckey was a second or third tier star for RCA during the 1970s. A terrific songwriter, I have never understood why Nat Stuckey didn’t become a huge star. He was handsome, had an excellent baritone voice and had great stage presence. Despite this, his success was marginal. His most famous songs, “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line” (Buck Owens – seven weeks at #1) and “Pop A Top” (a hit for both Jim Ed Brown and Alan Jackson) were hits for others . His own biggest hit, the #4 “Sweet Thang”, was recorded on the Paula label and today is better remembered as a Loretta Lynn-Ernest Tubb duet. None of these three songs are on this collection.
This CD collects the best recordings of his 1968-1975 tenure with RCA. Several of the songs “She Wakes Me With A Kiss Every Morning*, “Only A Woman Like You” and “Is It Any Wonder That I Love You” were #1 hits in several regional markets but none of them cracked the top ten nationwide (finishing at 11,24 & 26 respectively, although “She Wakes Me…” hit #5 on Cashbox’s charts). The biggest RCA hits were “Plastic Saddle” at #8 and “Sweet Thang and Cisco” at #9.
Strangers / Swinging Doors
I’m A Lonesome Fugitive / Branded Man
Sing Me Back Home / The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde
Mama Tried / Pride In What I Am
Hag / Someday We’ll Look Back
All five packages include some bonus cuts of either alternate takes or previously unreleased material, along with an informative booklet. The ten albums are among Hag’s best albums, priceless treasures all, except possibly The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde which is merely very good (but it does included “Today I Started Loving You Again” which was the B side of the single issued of the title cut). In case you are wondering about the gap between the dates of the 4th and 5th CD’s original recording dates, the Hag was indeed busy recording in late 1969 and in 1970 putting out a Jimmie Rodgers double album tribute, a Bob Wills tribute and two live albums Okie From Muskogee and Fighting Side of Me. Only the two live albums are similar enough that they would make a decent two-fer.
At San Quentin
This is a boxed set comprised of two music CDs and a DVD. The two CDs are the complete concert including for the first time, all of the performances by the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and the Carter Family. The DVD is the BBC documentary which televised in both the US and the UK and focuses more on what was going on around the concert than on the actual concert itself. The original LP was criminally short; the CD reissue from 2000 gave the complete Cash performance.